You’re a fake. Accept it. Embrace it. Smear it all over you like you’re a fat kid with too much Nutella (if you’re into that kinda thing).
Except… you’re not. You’re not a fake, I mean. You’re now qualified and you’ve spent at least a few months in the classroom, getting to grips with what this teaching lark is all about. You’ve also probably had to do some background reading as part of whatever training programme you’ve been on, as well as attending events/lectures/seminars and perhaps observing people and writing reflections and getting feedback and… and… and… you get the point: you’re experienced to some degree.
So you’re not really fake – you’re just ‘green’. And the students will smell it a mile off because you see, it turns out they’re experts at reading people, honing in on our biggest weaknesses and shining the world’s biggest light bulb on them so that they’re glaring at us and them and the whole world to witness. If you’re insecure, they’ll pick up on it; if you’re unprepared, they’ll pick up on it; if you try to be something you’re not, they’ll what? Pick up on it. So the question is, as a fresh, green, sprouting NQT, what do you do? Go back to the first line – accept it and embrace it. Let’s take this further.
There’s only so much preparation you can do before you step into your classroom for the first time. The data you’ve been sent by your school might show you who has educational needs, who is classed as ‘Pupil Premium’ and ‘Most Able’, etc, but these are merely words on a spreadsheet. You’re not dealing with data in the classroom. You’re dealing with living, breathing, coughing, laughing, chatting little human beings that are animated – and I don’t mean they’re cartoons. I mean ‘animated’ as in something that has life. The data can’t tell you their motivation or their energy level, or that they had a falling out with one of their friends two days ago, or that they’re in love and are now up until 2am talking to whoever their centre of the universe is this month. My point is, you need to get into your classroom and spend some length of time with these little human beings to build up your experience and this experience will ultimately serve to equip you with the toolkit for handling said human beings. However, that doesn’t help you right now, so is there something you can do from day one? Worry not. Yes there is. Read on, Macduff!
What can you do? KNOW THYSELF. That’s it. Let me explain…
- Who are you? The teacher. The authority. The boss. As Tom Bennett says, if you have a problem with accepting that role and the authority/responsibility that comes with it, you will be driven out of teaching by the students. So accept it.
- Whose classroom is it? Yours. (Yes, yours, even if you’re sharing it with 10 other teachers across the week, for that one hour slot, it is yours).
- Who determines what happens in your classroom? You do.
- Who has to follow everything you say in your classroom? They do. You are not equal to them. They are not equal to you.
Your belief in these four things is the absolute foundation of everything that classroom (behaviour) management is all about. Repeat these four points to yourself as many times as you need to, even as an affirmation ritual in the morning (if you’re into that stuff).
The truth is, you can’t control anyone’s behaviour (it’s their behaviour). What you can do is set the parameters within which their behaviour takes place. The crux is that you are the one setting and managing the parameters and that begins with the four points mentioned above. As an NQT, you may not have the experience under your belt yet, but you can go into every classroom situation with the mindset that “you are in my house and I will decide what happens in my house.” Therefore, if a student chooses to follow the rules set by you in your classroom, it’s all good, but if they choose to break the rules of your classroom, then a negative sanction follows, which you must be strong enough to follow through with.
You must go into that classroom with that expectation, otherwise you will suffer. You can’t negotiate. You can’t reason. You can’t approach this with the belief that you are engaging your equals (you’re not). As human beings, we are all equal in that we are equally entitled to dignity and fair treatment, but your knowledge compared to theirs isn’t equal here; your skills compared to theirs aren’t equal here; your qualifications and experience aren’t equal to theirs; your salary and your position aren’t equal here. If that equality did exist, what would be the point of hiring you as a ‘teacher’ (a person who teaches someone something)? The mere fact that you are teaching them, puts you in an unequal position of authority and responsibility over your students. Accept it, get over it and don’t believe you can negotiate the rules of your classroom, because you can’t. You’re the one that has to enforce them, so you set them (i.e. you set/enforce the rules and ethos of the school in the area of your responsibility – your classroom).
This will inevitably mean that sometimes you won’t be liked. Now that can be a bit of a tough shtick, but it goes with the territory of authority – no one likes others having power over them and they may resent any exercise of that power, but this doesn’t mean that you must not exercise it. What it does mean is that you take due care to exercise it in the right manner and for the good of those children that are in your care. Don’t make it personal. Instead, make things as mechanical as possible – “Action X results in consequence Y.” It’s not personal; it’s just procedure. In my experience, the more mechanical you are, the easier time you will have because you communicate to the students that it isn’t personal and so they don’t take it personally. You can clearly evidence the action (which is what you are sanctioning – not them as human beings) and so you will clearly implement the consequence.
So for now, that’s it. Whatever your experience level, you must go into the classroom with the underlying belief that the students are in your space and in your space, certain rules must be adhered to and if they aren’t, negative consequences will follow. The greater your certainty and level of comfort with that, the easier time you will have. Good luck and if you have any questions or comments, send them through to me in the comments section below.